Chafing: Causes, Treatment, and Prevention

Skin-on-skin rubbing is uncomfortable, but common and preventable

Chafed skin is caused by the frequent and recurrent friction that occurs when there is skin-on-skin rubbing in any area of the body. Chafing of the underarms, inner thighs, buttocks, groin, and nipples can lead to redness and irritation in those areas.

Preventing skin chafing can be as simple as keeping areas of the body that tend to rub together dry, using a lubricant that can reduce friction such as petroleum jelly, and dressing appropriately to reduce further irritation or skin-on-skin rubbing.

What Chafing Looks and Feels Like

Chafing can happen to anyone. It's normal for your thighs to rub together if you're wearing a skirt, for example. Many other areas of the body can also be affected by chafing, including the breasts, nipples, underarms, groin, buttocks, and feet.

A chafing rash is often mild. You can usually get rid of chafing without a visit to the healthcare provider. In some cases, though, if the activity that led to the chafing continues, the symptoms can worsen and an infection may develop.

The symptoms of chafed skin can be mild or severe. More serious cases of chafed skin may be accompanied by small lesions that burn when touched.

Underarm chafing

Frequent motion combined with a build-up of sweat makes the underarms especially prone to chafing. You may experience underarm chafing when working outside in a humid environment or exercising.

Skin Chafing Symptoms

Verywell / Jessica Olah

Mild Symptoms

Mild symptoms of skin chafing may not be noticeable at first. They may only become obvious when the skin in the affected area rubs against another surface.

A mild case of chafed skin looks like a red rash. In more severe cases, chafed skin may look swollen, or it may bleed or crust over. Symptoms can include:

  • A hot feeling over the affected area
  • Stinging
  • Burning
  • Excessive irritation
  • Itching

When the chafing begins to heal, you may notice an itchy sensation as the skin repairs itself. Chafed skin takes one to two days to heal, as long as it is treated immediately. If you leave chafed skin unattended or continue to participate in activities that exacerbate it, the chafed area can take longer to heal or become worse over time.

Severe Symptoms

Severe symptoms of skin chafing may show up after a strenuous exercise routine or if mild chafing symptoms were not treated with proper care. Welts may form in the affected areas after not only the top layer of the skin but also the lower layers and, in some cases, muscles are injured by repeated friction on the affected area.

Severe symptoms of chafed skin include:

  • Swelling of the affected area
  • Cracked or broken skin
  • Bleeding
  • Blisters or sores

Cracked, broken, or bleeding skin is an indication that the skin has been worn down to an extreme degree. It may require special care and antibiotic creams or ointments. Similarly, blisters or sores will require special care. They may need to be wrapped and protected to prevent them from popping and causing an open wound that could lead to an infection.


The skin can withstand a certain level of friction in daily activities like exercise, but there is a limit. When the skin continues to rub against other parts of the body or surfaces without pause, eventually chafing occurs. Some notable causes of the condition include:

  • Endurance exercise: Repeat motions involved in biking or running may lead to friction, while sweat can worsen the friction.
  • Weight: For people who are overweight or obese, skin folds and chafing occur more regularly.
  • Breastfeeding: Nursing a baby can cause the nipples to become irritated because of chafing caused by the baby feeding.
  • Diapers: Babies are susceptible to diaper rash, also known as diaper dermatitis, a type of skin chafing that happens when an infant is subjected to the moisture of feces and urine for prolonged periods of time.
  • Tight or ill-fitting clothes or shoes: If any area of your clothing rubs the skin the wrong way, it can cause skin chafing.

Other factors like sensitive skin, hot weather, and excess moisture from sweat or water sports may also lead to chafed skin.


Chafing may be a common skin irritation, but it will progress to more serious skin conditions and infections if left unchecked.


Severe chafed skin can lead to a type of dermatitis called intertrigo. Intertrigo is caused by folds of skin rubbing against each other in warm and moist areas of the body such as the groin.

The symptoms of chafed skin and intertrigo are similar, but intertrigo can be more severe and lead to a rash or oozing skin that is raw and itchy, a strong and unpleasant odor, and cracked skin. It can also lead to other complications such as a yeast or bacterial infection.

Satellite lesions (small areas of the same rash that are close to the main one) are characteristic of intertrigo. This skin condition also comes with a number of similar but worsened symptoms of chafing, such as:

  • Bleeding
  • Discoloration of the skin
  • Swelling and irritation
  • Blisters and sores
  • Crust
  • Other infections such as a yeast or bacterial infection
  • Odor

Intertrigo can lead to other skin infections that require further treatment, including Candida, Streptococcus, and erythrasma.


Because chafing can lead to the protective layer of the skin being damaged or destroyed, it can leave the body exposed to further infection if it is left untreated. Chafing is not a serious condition but it can lead to an infection if there is an open wound. Speak with a healthcare provider about possible treatment and prevention options if there is bleeding, swelling, crusting of the skin, or discoloration.

The skin is a protective organ for the whole body. It needs to be in an optimal condition to avoid any lasting friction that could lead to damage. Chafing can become worse if the area is warm and moist since moisture can aid in the breaking down and damaging of the skin.

Friction Burns

A severe form of chafing is often referred to as a friction burn, which is when the skin is scraped off through contact with another surface. A friction burn is usually both an abrasion and a heat burn. Friction burns may increase the risk of a skin infection because they often leave an open wound. They may result in temporary or permanent scarring of the skin.


It is easy to self-diagnose skin chafing at home, especially in the case of mild irritation. The rash itself is red, and can present with mild or burning pain, especially when it is touched. It’s generally easy to distinguish between other rashes because of where it occurs on the body and its gradual onset. The rash becomes worse the more the skin chafes, so the progression and source can be easy to pin down. 

If you don't treat chafing or continue to participate in activities that make the skin in the affected area rub together or against surfaces, the chafed skin could become infected. Signs of infection include discoloration and crusting of the skin. If you suspect you might have an infection caused by skin chafing, contact your healthcare provider right away for treatment options.

Chafed Skin Treatment

When it comes to chafed skin, many people opt for home remedies. Home remedies for chafed skin are easily accessible and effective if the nature of the rash is not severe. But medical treatment options are available if the rash progresses, and they should be explored in cases of infection.

Home Remedies

In a minor case of skin chafing, a home remedy and complete avoidance of any activity that will exacerbate the symptoms will be enough to get relief from chafing and eliminate the rash and painful burning.

Before beginning treatment for your chafed skin, you will want to clean the affected area thoroughly to keep infection at bay. There are a wide variety of OTC creams for chafing relief, including:

  • Aloe vera treatment: Aloe vera is a succulent that has been known to soothe skin irritation, such as sunburns and wounds. Aloe vera can be found in a gel, or if you have an aloe vera plant, you can break off a leaf and take it directly from there to apply to the skin.
  • Petroleum jelly: Lubrication can help reduce overall skin irritation and keep the chafing from getting worse. A layer of petroleum jelly like Vaseline is good for chafing skin and has also been shown to help curb symptoms of wounds and burns.
  • Shea butter: To soothe the skin and help soften any roughness that may have been caused by chafing, shea butter is a great chafed skin remedy. It has been shown to help reduce inflammation and induce healing of the skin.
  • Corticosteroid creams: Mild corticosteroids can be purchased over the counter and be very effective in treating chafing of the skin.

Home remedies can be effective for getting rid of chafing if the rash is mild, but if the condition doesn’t clear up after treatment, you may need to speak to your healthcare provider about other options.

Medical Treatment

In the event that the chafing is more serious, a healthcare provider may recommend a medicated ointment to help clear up the infection and soothe the pain and burning associated with chafed skin.

A treatment regimen for each case will be different, so it’s important for those with severe or prolonged chafing to speak with a healthcare provider about options that work for them.

How to Prevent Chafing

Chafing can be prevented by following a series of simple steps. In general, preventing friction can keep chafing from occurring, and that can be accomplished in a number of ways:

Keep Moisture at Bay

Limit moisture during exercise and daily life. If you are active, choose breathable workout clothes. Synthetic fabrics labeled "moisture-wicking," for example, will carry sweat away from your body.

Deodorants will also help keep moisture at bay, and they can act as a barrier between layers of skin, reducing friction.

Wear the Right Clothing

Your clothing may both cause chafing and prevent it. Clothes with tight seams can rub against your skin, causing irritation. Clothing with a looser fit won't create friction.

If your inner thighs are chafing during high-intensity activities like running, choose legwear that prevents skin-to-skin contact, such as compression shorts.

Use Anti-Chafing Products

Apply petroleum jelly to your inner thighs or the other parts of your body that are vulnerable to chafing. You can also use products designed specifically for chafing, like natural (non-talcum) powders or anti-chafing sticks. 

Anti-chafing bands can be worn on the thighs to help prevent rubbing or friction. Chafing can also be minimized by applying a chafe-healing cream on the affected area before sleep.


Chafing is a common and normal part of life, and the best way to cope with chafing is through prevention. Chronic chafing can occur for a variety of reasons, but it can be easy to manage. Take note of which area in your body is prone to chafe and which of your daily activities most often lead to chafing. Then plan on buying products and clothes that will be most effective at limiting chafing in your daily life. Weight management could also be an option if excess weight is the cause of chafing.

Practicing good personal hygiene is another way to prevent chafing from happening. Keep areas in the body where chafing happens most frequently dry and clean. For babies with a diaper rash, make sure to change their diapers more frequently or let the baby rest without a diaper for some periods of time. Speak to a pediatrician about the most suitable treatment options, especially if the baby's diaper rash is caused by an infection.

If chafing does occur even with preventive measures in place, treating the affected area immediately is important to preventing mild symptoms from progressing to severe ones and complications like infections.

A Word From Verywell

Skin chafing can happen to children and adults, and can be hard to deal with if it is recurrent or chronic. With the right prevention steps that limit chafing and moisture and effective at-home treatments, however, chafed skin can be easily managed.

Chafing won't heal overnight, but if you stop the activity that's causing the chafing and start treatment right away, it may take only a day or two for your symptoms to clear up. Prompt treatment is also necessary to limit the risk of an infection and prevent it from becoming a serious health problem.

A healthcare provider can provide advice on solutions if an infection does occur. Investing in anti-chafe products can also be a good solution.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Do you need prescription cream to get rid of severe chafing?

    Not always, but you may if the chafing is very severe or home remedies have failed. Prescription topical steroids produce anti-inflammatory proteins that stop inflammation.

  • What kind of powder is good for preventing chafing?

    Absorbent sports powders or those made with cornstarch can help you avoid getting chafed. Use it under your arms, under breasts, around the groin, and between any skin folds. Women should avoid talcum power, which has been linked to ovarian cancer in some studies (although the research is not conclusive). 

  • What are signs that intertrigo is infected?

    If the area becomes increasingly red and more inflamed, a patch of intertrigo may be infected. You may also experience oozing, cracks, maceration (when skin looks soft and soggy), or crusting. If the irritation is between folds of skin, a foul odor may develop when the area becomes infected.

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Angelica Bottaro
Angelica Bottaro is a professional freelance writer with over 5 years of experience. She has been educated in both psychology and journalism, and her dual education has given her the research and writing skills needed to deliver sound and engaging content in the health space.